Goodbye, farewell, to you my friends

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This is it.

That was the name of Michael Jackson’s farewell tour that, as it turns out, quite literally foreshadowed the King of Pop’s unceremonious demise. He died from cardiac arrest three weeks before he was slated to take the stage in a series of career-closing concerts.

I utter those same words in relaying the sad news that this is it for me at El Defensor Chieftain. The Sports Savant, and his musings, is no more. If you hadn’t heard, I’ve accepted a job at the Santa Fe New Mexican and start that gig Feb. 6.

I know, I know. I can already hear the “Good riddance” scoffs and the cacophony of joyous celebrations. But while there is certainly a segment of Socorro that won’t miss me, or my style of writing, I’d be remiss if I didn’t show appreciation for the newspaper and community that gave me my first real-world shot at journalism fresh out of college.

My six-month tour of duty in Socorro ran the gamut. I got to cover almost everything. Stories about tragedy, triumph and tumult — the rawest, purest human emotions. I’ll always remember one of my first stories.

Miles Parscal had just lost his mom, Claudia, who valiantly battled cancer, but finally succumbed to the disease. As a tribute, Parscal was hell-bent on playing in the Steers’ season-opener. After the game, one the Steers lost, I remember scouring the locker room, searching for Parscal.

Finally, my boss wrangled him in the parking lot. I couldn’t fully grasped his agony, so I was trying to be sensitive to his situation, but doing an interview after having a family member pass isn’t exactly how most of us would want to sooth our still-aching hearts.

Yet here was Parscal, resolutely eulogizing his mother. I remember at the end of the interview I offered my hand, but instead Parscal went for the hug. I remember the drive back to Socorro, thinking about how Parscal remained so composed in the face of such pain.

It was a stark reminder that journalism is a people-dominated, emotion-based industry. It requires you to manage and massage egos, to comfort and console, to immerse yourself and adapt to your surroundings.

I learned a lot in the little time I spent in Socorro, lessons that will hopefully follow me throughout my career. I learned about small-town dynamics and how it relates to community journalism.

I learned how the newspaper can be the town’s lifeblood, and how the words in that newspaper impact people in a more personalized way than in bigger metropolitan areas, like Albuquerque.

I learned, and am still learning, how to cover high school athletes.

Just as much, I met a lot of kind, well-mannered people. Ones who understood some of what my job entailed.

Like Michael Armijo.

Not everyone responds kindly to having a story published that doesn’t portray them in the best light, yet Armijo handled it with considerable aplomb. He had gotten into an altercation with a gatekeeper at the state soccer tournament, and I had to write a story about it.

Usually, in situations like these, the person being asked for their account is combative and curt, but Armijo didn’t shy away from the tough questions, answering them calmly, and then to top it off, thanking the newspaper for covering the Socorro girls soccer team’s season.

It was a far cry from what I experienced at UNM, where unfavorable reporting was met with much less decorum.

Yet here in Socorro, the coaches were always gracious. They spared me the time for interviews and dispensed informational nuggets as often as they could, helping me get to know SHS, Magdalena and Alamo’s athletic histories.

The student-athletes, too, were always respectful and accommodating. I had my reservations about high school kids. I thought they’d be shy, obstinate and tough to talk to. What I found was rather the opposite.

From football to cross country to basketball and soccer, it was tough to find a student-athlete who wasn’t willing to talk, and even more refreshing, the interviews were usually more honest and entertaining than the hum-drum, public-relations-drilled answers I’d get from student-athletes at the collegiate level.

All in all, working in Socorro was one of the pleasures of my so-far short career. I couldn’t possibly name all the people I owe my gratitude, so I hope a, “Thank you, Socorro,” does the trick.

As I said before, this is it, but I’m hoping it turned out to be as worthwhile for you as it was for me.

 


-- Email the author at iavilucea@dchieftain.com.